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Riley Music Academy Music Cast: 3 areas to explore when you don’t know what to practice

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3 areas to explore when you don’t know what to practice.

Recently I’ve been talking about goal setting and achievement.  I hope you’ve been paying attention ;) NB.  If you haven’t seen these blogs then you can check the January 2016 archive here

This week I want to write about a common problem:

“I don’t know what to practice.”

I said in a previous post that this problem was easily rectified by looking through your goals, working backwards, tick off smaller targets and reach your big ambitions.

If however, you are finding this a bit difficult then I would suggest this approach:

Practice these 3 elements:

  1. Hone your skills/musicianship
  2. Use those skills to complete a specific task
  3. Create music to improve motivation and document your results

Lets look at these three areas in a bit more detail:

1.  Hone your skills/musicianship
You need a general level of musicianship to achieve results.  I have talked about this before; an individual with high levels of musicianship can pick up any instrument and make music on it.  They may not know all the technical aspects of the instrument but yes, they are those annoying people that seem to learn a completely new instrument in almost no time at all.  Don’t you just hate them?!

An analogy which often gets thrown around for this is the Toolbox.  Inside that Toolbox is a set of Tools necessary to becoming a true professional.  Working on musicianship skills is the equivalent to maintaining those tools and keeping them in tip top condition.  A gardener without a spade or a hairdresser with blunt scissors would soon find professional work difficult.

Examples of musicianship skills in practice would be:

  • Interval Recognition
  • Transcribing
  • Sight Singing
  • Chord Analysis
  • Scales
  • Sight Reading
  • Tone Work
  • Fundamentals
  • Rhythmic Patterns or Rudiments

Pick something from this list to work into your practice routine.

Next up:

2.  Use those skills to complete a specific task

If your tools are in tip top condition then you can go ahead and use them on the job.  If you are working on a piece of music then focus your attention on one musical element and play with full focus to get that element perfect.  For example, if you struggle reading a tricky rhythm then take away all others aspects (pitch, dynamics, articulation etc) to completely focus on getting the job done.  Once you have completed the task you can then slowly introduce the other elements to make it sound a bit better.

Examples of completing specific musical tasks:

  • Playing difficult passages
  • Reading high/low notes – notes outside of your reading ‘comfort zone’
  • Playing a fast phrase
  • Hearing a chord progression
  • Alternative fingerings
  • Extended technique
  • Coordination exercises
Add something from this list to your practice schedule

Lastly – perhaps the most fun…?

3.  Create music to improve motivation and document your results

Once you have your tools in good order and you know how to use them, you can then set about creating works of art.  An ice sculptor primes her chainsaw, she knows how to use it safely (!) and then she uses the tool to make a swan from a big block of frozen water.  Amazing!  But without the first two elements in place things could go horribly wrong!  You get the picture…

It improves your motivation because you actually feel like you’re doing something thats of ‘worth’.  Documenting helps with this as you can check in from time to time and pat yourself on the back – or just know that something you ‘made’ is out there.  You don’t have to be egotistical about it, but why not show it off?  Someone out there may be inspired by it.

I guess thats why I right these blogs.  I know how to spell (although I often rely on spell check more than is healthy), I practice writing sentences and read through at the end to make should my point is coming across and then I send it out there – not because I want people to think I’m some sort of guru but because I hope that maybe one person will read my advice and take some action.  If they improve their musicianship because of me then I get a big buzz from it.  So, in fact, yes…I’m writing this blog for completely selfish reasons as its for my own happiness.  Ha!

Anyway…back from the self-indulgant tangent.

Examples of creating and documenting your music:

  • Composition (written or recorded)
  • Improvisation
  • Cover song (playing someone else’s tune)
  • Building your own exercise
  • Singing out loud
  • Tapping out a beat on the desk
  • Keeping a music journal
The other great thing about documentation is that you don’t even have to revisit it if you don’t want to.  It works just to put it out there. The reason for this is that you take on a different mindset to produce good work.  Practising this mindset is just as useful as re-assessing your work at a later date.

As always, I hope this helps and if you want to post any questions or thoughts then please do so below.

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